Our stories

We’ve produced short stories on many different topics such as birthdays; re-writing a fairy tale from the point of view of a different character; producing work which does not use certain conjunctions such as ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘yet’, ‘so’ & ‘then’; a story or other piece of writing based on a picture chosen by the group; writing something based on a chosen newspaper article, from a different angle or any idea prompted by the article and writing something based on a line from a song or newspaper headline. Some of us have also written poems.

Here is a selection of our writings, grouped by topics:

Cinderella – different points of view

Albert Ivimey : The Valet
  My name is Dandini and I am a character in a very well known ancient tale known as Cinderella, recorded by Perrault, Grimm and others from centuries-­‐old oral stories.
  There are such stories emanating from Asia, Africa and elsewhere but my tale is a European one.
  The Cinderella tale is so well known that I will not set out the salient events in detail. It is enough for me to say that I appear in a libretto by Jacopo Ferretti for an opera by Rossini called La Cenerentola, first produced in 1817 and in which I am the valet of Don Ramiro, Prince of Salerno. It does not include the fairy godmother of Grimm and Perrault, who is replaced by Alindoro, the Prince’s tutor; also there is no glass slipper (which is replaced by a pair of matching bracelets).
  The Perrault story ends with two morals, the first that although beauty is a great gift, a far more important gift is graciousness, without which nothing is possible; with it one can do anything. The second is that while intelligence, courage, good breeding (!) and common sense are great gifts from heaven, they may not bring success without a godfather or godmother. The Grimms’ tale is rather more violent, and ends with the stepsisters (who have already been crippled by chopping off parts of their feet) having their eyes pecked out by doves and being blinded for the rest of their lives as punishment for their “wickedness and falsehood”.
  Ferretti and Rossini’s version is much less violent and also much funnier. Rossini was opposed to any supernatural elements, and had a “philosopher” and tutor in place of the fairy godmother. He also did without the heavy religious overtones of Perrault and the Grimms, and made the story less soppy, with “Angiolina” (Cinderella) much more feisty and strong-­‐minded.
  Signor Rossini provides me with much fine music to sing and also acting opportunities including my impersonating the Prince, and he impersonating me. Angiolina (“the angelic one”) shows her independence and lack of crude ambition by making it clear to the Prince (who at the time is disguised as me, his equerry) that she despises wealth and seeks a husband who is kind, respectful and loving. Earlier in the second act (while I am disguised as the Prince) I express my love for her, to which she responds by telling me that she loves my equerry. She then makes it clear that she is not seeking wealth and position, but only a virtuous and loving husband.
  The opera ends as one expects, with the venal Don Magnifico and his grasping daughters embarrassed and humiliated, and the Prince and Cinderella united in happy union. It also follows Perrault in providing a happy ending for the malcontents by Cinderella displaying her graciousness in forgiving her stepfather and stepsisters and persuading the Prince to accept them as her father and siblings. It should go without saying that Rossini’s glorious music makes everything believable and immensely enjoyable.
  March 2018

Audrey Evers : Ella
  I feel blessed that the role of fairy godmother has survived into the 21st century and that I still have a purpose. I can’t imagine life without being able to appear or disappear at will, not to be able to see behind closed doors or to be the intimate observer of people’s private lives. My patch right now is Belgravia and I can assure you that lives can be just as miserable, just as wretched and painful here as in any part of the metropolis -­‐ relatively speaking.
  My focus recently has been split between two rather high-­‐class residences, the Forsythes of Eaton Square and the Royals in Buckingham Gardens. The discussion in the latter for the last few evenings, over pre-­‐dinner sherry, has been the marriage prospects of the youngest grandson who seems determined to be unconventional and will not be guided by those who know best!
  ‘Do you know he actually said he wants to marry a woman who can speak out and who feels as strongly as he does about the devastation in the world’ exclaimed Philip. ‘He then stormed from the room saying he would have no part in an arranged marriage, and would instead devote his life to rescuing families from the devastation across the world, be it war or climate change of all things, and that he was prepared to risk life and limb in order to do so,’ uttered Philip, wiping his brow with the monogrammed handkerchief Elizabeth was offering him. ‘Don’t despair dear’ she said. ‘He’s agreed to attend the Mayfair debutante’s ball before flying out. I promised him he could invite the celebrity speaker for the evening if he agreed. Fingers crossed’.
  Not far away in Eaton Square I have been wafting in and out of bedrooms and morning rooms and even down to the basement, building up a not so pretty picture of what is going on there! Banker Forsythe has spent little time at home since his recent marriage to Lady Jane and has not had time to get to know his two stepdaughters and has spent little time in comforting his only daughter Ella, following the death of her mother. Ella had always been so independent and not one to mope and stay at home but now she hides behind her Geographic and Scientific magazines when she can, to avoid the persecution she receives from her new family, who make life miserable for her at every turn. Seeing the dark rings under her eyes, the scratch marks on her wrists and hearing the muffled sobs from her attic bedroom I know it is time to reveal myself and work a miracle.
  I rather surprised Ella when I turned on the sidelight by her bed and asked her to dry her eyes; I must have presented as some apparition in the middle of the night dressed in my evening finery, including my sequined purple fascinator! I already knew the sisters were going to the debutants ball and I also knew that Ella would loathe such an occasion and that the tears and sleepless nights were the result of her virtual imprisonment in 10 Eaton Square and the prospect of more to come.
  I asked her to show me the paper she had been working on, the one she had not been allowed to present to the National Geographic Societies Annual meeting the previous month and I then gave her three instructions to follow: to brush up and rehearse her talk, to dress and pack a bag for an extreme holiday venture and to be on the steps of the basement at 8 o’clock sharp on Saturday night. I also asked for her business card giving details of her expertise and her website. I think I left her in a rather confused state but I was reassured by a glimmer of hope in her eyes.
  My next task was a little more difficult but I tracked down the Royals’ grandson on one of his official duty days, opening a school for autistic children in East London – the teachers thought my dress rather unusual but the children were in awe, wanting to touch my wand, to glean some magic no doubt. I cornered Harry with tea and biscuits after the ceremony and he kindly gave me the time of day, enough time for me to tell him about the remarkable Ella who had produced a brilliant, persuasive, up to date paper on climate change, which we both believed could even change the doubting minds of the American government. I gave him Ella’s card and said she would be present at the May Ball on Saturday if he wanted to take it any further.
  Then I let my magic do the rest. I hardly need to tell you that the guest speaker was a great surprise and I particularly enjoyed observing the looks of horror on the faces of Lady Jane and her two daughters, as Ella, hand in hand with the prince, was escorted to the white helicopter ready and waiting on the roof of No 10 Belgravia Square.
  Meanwhile I float unobserved to rest my head somewhere else for the night.
  March 2018

Denise Irwin : Act in Haste. Repent at Leisure
  I suppose a good place to start is at the beginning …
  Coming out of our local supermarket I overheard a snippet of mobile phone talk. ‘Just think – a lifetime with me.’ Looking at the speaker I did wonder who, in heaven’s name, would subject themselves to a life sentence with a person needing a close encounter with a barber, a washing machine, maybe even baptism by sheep dip would do it. The other thought – who was the person on the receiving end. Was this a new date line constructed to impress? Anyway, the one liner got me thinking. If that imbecile could switch on the charm, why not me? Widowed for five years, a daughter doing okay, the dog still breathing, the mortgage paid off; even the job was going ridiculously well. Maybe …
  Cindy, my daughter, is … let me think about this. She’s 16. Loves, no adores, animals. We have gone through the guinea pig stage, the mice, the rats, stray cats, the injured fox, hedgehogs. The food bill has escalated. Her career path at the moment is, naturally, veterinary science. Her diet now strictly vegan. Would she approve of another woman in the house? My reasoning was the finite nature of our lives. Soon she would be off to university, while I would be left boiling a solitary egg. The prospect was profoundly disturbing. Tackling my dilemma would, of course, necessitate seeking approval from my daughter. After my wife died her time at school was agonising. We’d always known there was something different about Cindy, as she grew older mild crushes on female teachers intensified, finally shifting to a girl in her year group. As you can imagine the teasing, the name calling was unbelievably cruel. Fortunately, the two main culprits (we called them Goneril and Regan) left enabling Cindy to finally ‘come out’ as she says.
  After getting the approval I desperately sought we started. Cindy found an ad for Speed Dating at the local pub. Well that was abysmal. My facial complexion was a worthy adversary of the beetroot. (I’ve always been a blusher) My most stimulating conversation covered the dietary requirements of hedgehogs. (Dog or cat food never, ever bread and milk) My grand finale was stating that Country and Western music was like chalk scraping on a blackboard to a cowboy booted female.
  Next it was the ad placed in the Looking for Someone … anyone … in the national newspaper. This, according to my daughter was second best to on-­line dating. I was a self-­confessed technophobe.
  What to write. Regular guy, widower into jazz, old movies, good food seeks like-­‐minded female. Age … height … weight … bloody hell. The fear of a myriad of sexually transmitted diseases. Should I provide the equivalent of an MOT. Only one owner … carefully tuned, regularly serviced, some wear and tear -­ while expecting the same in reply. I was on the cusp of failure until my daughter pointed out I could look at the section where women paraded their wares. I did … in fact we did. I can’t remember the last time we laughed with such side-­aching, jaw splitting delight. Finally, one seemed to capture our imaginations.
  Well what happened next was a hurricane, a tsunami, an emotionally, sexually charged relationship. Our meetings became almost clandestine as we sampled hotels, chalets, overnight sleepers, ancestral homes, glamping. Riotous romping was divine. Our children never met. Our time she insisted. As a widow, with two ‘delightful, sensitive’ girls, she wanted us to get to know each other first before we made that final commitment.
  Cindy stayed with her maternal grandmother during these periods. A wild woman, an artist, a poet … it was said she had magic in her finger tips. I prayed neither would hold me back from my pursuit of happiness. Nor think any the less of me.
  Weeks became months until an extravagant notion came upon me. Venice in June, where a decision could be reached. What can I say. The romance escalated as we danced, dined, deliberated on our mutual good fortune. Those occasional times spent apart in pursuit of personal interests provided the time to reflect on my good fortune. Consequently, over a particularly intimate meal I proposed. Our wedding to take place once our two families had spent time together.
  That last evening, she appeared with the local padre, paperwork in order, price negotiated. Behind him a jeweller. Behind him a man whose face seemed familiar – the plane, the café, perhaps walking too close to what was mine. Before I was able to capture the thought, it was gone. She spoke, with tears in her eyes she said she couldn’t wait. Venice was where we must seal our love.
  Now I suppose the best place to finish is the end.
  Act in haste; repent at leisure. The last letter I received at the sanitorium was from my solicitor stating she – my wife – has assumed all rights to my home. Her daughters – the solicitor calls them Goneril and Regan – are plundering Cindy’s allowance, making her life a misery. The dog her only companion.
  I plan to write to her grandmother as soon as she recovers from a sudden, unexplained illness; however, my outgoing mail is scrutinised, by a doctor whose face seems familiar, for any further evidence of madness.
  March 2018

Emilia Dowling : A Modern Day Cinderella
  As she washed yet another load of dishes, she found herself remembering a story she was told when she was little. It was about Cinderella, the girl who was rescued by the prince after years of being unfairly treated by her wicked stepmother and her ugly sisters.
  There was not going to be a prince to rescue her. Her dreary life, cleaning, washing, shopping and falling asleep exhausted at the end of a long day, had been the same ever since that fateful day, shortly after her 16th birthday, when tired of the abusive step-­‐father and her weak mother standing by and pretending not to see or hear, she left her home town for good, for a life, she hoped, would be better in England.
  She remembered the long night on the bus, crossing borders through Europe, hungry, tired but hopeful, always hopeful …
  They, (her two friends also fled unhappy home lives), had been led to believe that there would be glamorous and well paid jobs at the end of the long journey, they would live in a hall of residence with other young women their age, there would be time and opportunities for meeting new people, seeing new places, having a new life.
  She had not seen her friends since the arrival at a deserted bus station in the middle of the night, when she was taken by a man and a woman she never saw again to her ‘new home’. There, she met her ‘mistress’ who told her she would be working seven days a week, for a very low pay and she would have to surrender her passport if she wanted to secure a safe place to live. She was petrified. Cold and hungry, she couldn’t find the words to ask any questions. She collapsed exhausted, only to be woken up the next morning to shouts of ‘get up you lazy bitch, it’s time you started work’.
  The days that followed were all the same, lots of work, little food or rest and worst of all, the total isolation, she very rarely had any interaction with members of the household except for being given orders.
  That morning however, there was a glimmer of hope. The day before she had seen through the window a priest going by, and she had managed to call out and make him stop briefly. She told him she was a prisoner there but couldn’t talk for long for fear of being caught. The priest just said, ‘don’t despair, I’ll be back …’
  As the hours went by she kept glancing out of the window and then, suddenly, she saw him approaching the front door. He wasn’t alone though; there were two people behind him.
  As the doorbell rang she went to answer, but her ‘mistress’ was already in the hall saying I’ll get it, go back in the kitchen. She didn’t and as the door opened the two people behind the priest said loudly, ‘Police, step back’, the policewoman grabbed her and before she knew it she was in the police car, finally safe and free.
  March 2018

Nicci Iacovou : Cinderella’s Stepmother
  Everyone says that stepmothers get an unjustified bad press and then, almost in the same breath, tell you about someone’s horrible stepmother. That’s me. I’m one of those – a stepmother that is, but not a horrible one. Unfortunately, thanks to my goody-­‐two-­‐shoes stepdaughter, Cinderella, I’m coming off even worse than the queen across the border whose stepdaughter hangs about with vertically challenged diamond miners.
  Ignore what you’ve heard about my Anastasia and Drizella. They’re good girls. They would do anything to help anyone. They’ve tried and tried to spend time with Cinderella and include her in things but she doesn’t want to know. Take the other morning for instance. Like almost every other day, she spent the whole time in the basement. Goodness knows what she does down there, amongst the brooms and other cleaning stuff, sitting on an old stool. Sometimes we hear her talking to herself.
  Then when she does deign to join us, she always has a long face and hardly speaks, moping around the place. My husband really spoilt her when it was just the two of them.
  A couple of weeks ago, we got our invitation to the royal ball. You would think she’d be excited like everyone else, but no, she skulked off to the basement, as usual. It’s certainly not true that I said she couldn’t go to the ball. I even offered to make up a dress for her from an old one of mine, but she didn’t want to know, the ungrateful girl.
  When she finally emerged from her basement pit, she left a trail of glitter on the stairs. She was very evasive when I asked her where it had come from. I waited for her offer to clean it up. Glad I didn’t hold my breath, though. In the end, I really shouted at her to clear up her mess. That soon got her on her feet and working. Teenagers need a firm hand, I say. When her father is back from his travels, I’ll have to talk to him about having a chat with her. We can’t carry on like this.
  The final straw was this morning. I’m busy with my girls trying to sort out everything for the ball tonight and she’s missing. Her bed hadn’t been slept in. Then Anastasia said that Cinderella had taken to sleeping in the basement as well. Don’t believe what you hear, I didn’t force her into that. I’ve just found out myself.
  Wait a minute, what’s that in the front garden? It looks like a giant pumpkin. Where on earth did it come from? Ugh, I think I saw some mice running around the pumpkin. What is going on? That Cinderella has a lot of explaining to do this time.
  March 2018

Wilma Ivimey : The Ugly Sister’s Monologue
  My name is Anastasia, I am young, 19 years old. I am the sister of Drusilla and stepsister to Cinderella. My occupation is to feature as a ‘wicked sister’ in a fairy tale. There are many versions of my story all over the world: in Poland, India, China, and many more places. All of them show that beauty and virtue are rewarded with social success, great wealth, and love. Plainness is punished by humiliation at best, and degradation at worst. God forbid I should wish for a Deity to, ‘stand up for bastards’ like Edmund, or, as lago does, put forward a credo of villainy and evil. I will just defend my reputation against calumny.
  My sister Drusilla and I are fatherless. Our mother married the Baron, Cinderella’s father. He died leaving we four women unsupported. The situation was desperate. Husbands had to be found. They were the only possible solution to our problems. We bullied Cinderella. It is true, but our mother was pushing us hard and Cinders was our rival. The Prince was looking for a wife. Unfortunately our mother encouraged us in our behaviour, looking after our interests, but exemplifying a poor role model. It is assumed that Cinder’s mother had all the fine attributes that blessed her daughter.
  My sister and I are said to be ugly. Our feet were too large to fit into the glass slipper left by the anonymous princess at the ball, (who I now know to have been Cinderella) and small feet are said to be an Eastern sign of beauty. But Cinderella’s beauty is merely a reflection of Western fashion. She has a peaches and cream complexion, rosebud lips, long blonde hair, and blue eyes. She is very passive, never argues or contradicts anyone. She appears to be very submissive and talks to the kitchen mice in the fire- place. In essence, she is a bimbo, perfect arm-candy for the Prince.
  Equating ugliness with cruelty, and beauty with kindness is a profound stereotyping offence against Drusilla and myself, and quite nonsensical. Surely beautiful people can be nasty and cruel. And conversely, allegedly ugly people can be kind and worthy. As to the Prince, in all my life I have never met such a weak, brainless, ineffectual twit. He is propped up by an army of underlings, and concerns himself with the search for a beautiful wife. l consider myself fortunate to have escaped matrimony with such a dullard.
  The Fairy Godmother shows a severe dereliction of her moral duty to act justly by her partiality to our stepsister. I am bound to say that I did not cut off my toes or heels in order to make the glass slipper fit, nor did I have both my eyes pecked out, as Grimm would have it. Perrault gave me a happy ending, with a husband, and all the family living happily ever after.
  March 2018

Stories inspired by Rachel Mallalieu’s photo “red roof”

Rachel Mallalieu’s photo Red Roof

Carol Jones : Bells and Whistles
  I don’t know about you, but I often wonder about properties when I’m driving or walking by them. This one was on my way to walk the dog so we drove by it most days. Set back and looking a bit lonely – like me at times. The red roof stands out like my red car plus my dog, Jazzy, has a red coat. Suppose red symbolises protection to me.
  Anyway, to make a short story long, when it appeared on the market for sale or let my dog– like curiosity [quite different than a cat’s curiosity] overcame my desire to remain unnoticed. I signed up for the open house the following week. Now you don’t know this about me but openness and sociability are not words that anyone would use in the same sentence with my name. Recluse is the most prevalent one used when anyone is brave enough to write about me. Recluse is a word I like. Nice shape and sound and gives a partial ‘clue’ to the body and soul I inhabit.
  I was unsettled for the next few days and I put it down to anxiety about the impending visit. When Saturday arrived, Jazzy had an usually early walk and he must have felt my tension as dogs do and when I tried to hurry him, he was having none of it and lally gogged.
  I was there at 9.58 for the 10.00 open house and had to wait for the estate agent. She recognised me and greeted me with surprise and amusement. After all, she sold me the house I live in now. She opened the house and I waited outside while she put on coffee. Apparently, the smell of coffee encourages potential buyers or renters to feel at home. Being a tea drinker, it didn’t have the desired effect on me.
  You probably want to know a bit about the house besides that one fact – it has a red roof. It felt more spacious inside than it looked from the outside. Walking around, the vibes were – what? I couldn’t decide. There are two decent sized bedrooms, open plan sitting room and kitchen-­‐a modern must have adaptation and a reasonable sized bathroom. The bath was a luxurious one and that impressed me as I’m a bath taking, tea and wine drinking, non-smoking no nonsense recluse! Sorry, that’s more about me than the house.
  Not wanting to let it, asked the offer that would be accepted. To my surprise it was very reasonable. Bells began to ring. What was the catch? Sewer, central heating, postal delivery, reasonable rates, Wi-fi, garden okay and freehold – all Yes. Well I thought, don’t seem too keen just prowl around for a bit.
  She was keen to know my thoughts and I was just as keen to keep them to myself. Research was needed. The internet has its advantages but this is a small area and there is a library nearby.
  No wonder bells were ringing. Amazed that whistles didn’t blow loudly! With its history, I put in a considerably lower offer.
  May 2018

Carl Parker : The Red House
  Though more than 30 years had passed since I last saw it, it was still there. The Red House. Really it’s dark brown, and less of a house than a shack. But its bright red roof, gave the name of the Red House.
  I’d spoken of it to my wife before we came down here, but I hadn’t expected it to still be here. Aside from all the winters there had been the great storm of 1987.
  It was owned by a colleague of my father, who rented it out for weekends or longer. A kitchen with a Calor stove. A sink with cold water. A living area with a table and a sofabed and a small bedroom. Outside a stinky chemical toilet.
  We would drive down for a day or, a couple of times, to stay overnight. Picnics on the beach, breakfast round the tiny table, my Mum and Dad, me and my sister.
  On our last visit my best friend Glen and his sister, my sister’s best friend came with us.
  Glen, who in February 1962 revelled as John Glenn orbited above us. A hero flying through space, with his name. I was so envious.
  The girls had the bedroom and my parents, the sofa bed. We were camped out in a tent my father pitched in the lee of the house. A groundsheet, lilos and sleeping bags. At nine when we went to bed it was still light. There we planned our diamond hunting expedition up the Amazon. The boat we would need. How to avoid piranha fish and headhunters with blowpipes and poison darts. What would we do if one became entwined in the coils of an anaconda? Our future was planned and certain.
 I went to Catholic school, Glen to an Anglican one. That was why, the following spring, he escaped mumps. An epidemic ravaged my school. I was quarantined from Glen for three weeks.
  The quarantine extended into the Easter break. I woke on a Monday morning and my first thought was I could see Glen. Minutes later my Mum came in. She sat at the end of my bed, tears streaming as she choked out the words “Glen has died”.
  I was silent. Uncomprehending. How? Why? No tears, just a huge loss. A hole in my life. A hole that could never be filled. No words. I couldn’t say anything.
  Just four months later this feeling, this reaction was repeated and infinitely magnified.
  Our parish priest drove me home from school. He’d uttered the most devastating words I’d heard in my life. “I’m sorry to say your father has died”.
  I looked at the roof ridge. It seemed to mark a watershed. Days of sunshine preceding days of darkness. Days of reality.
 Memories closed in, bringing a jag of pain.
  My wife took my hand and asked if I was OK. She pulled me close and put an arm around me. Yes, everything is good.
  We walked past the shack. I looked for ghosts, but there were none.
  May 2018

Denise Irwin : Finding Heaven
  Being a dog of disrepute with the looks of a flea-bitten mutt, keeping a home is a serious challenge. I’ve had enough of upturning bins in the hopes of finding more than take-away curry remains. See, I don’t have a strong stomach. The spice plays havoc with the guts; consequently I’m lucky if I find a spot to relieve myself before being moved on. It’s a case of on your bike mate. The older you get … well once those puppy looks have gone, the slobbering is no longer an adorable trait, the fresh rub-my-tummy smell has skipped out of the window – basically a dog like me is doomed. Once upon a time I was an adorable pup, not much pedigree, however; my eyes … well they were deep. Soul searching.
  Christmas came and went. The novelty wore off and, would you believe it, I was dumped at some out of town pound. Me along with a few mates … doesn’t take long to suss out who’s got the balls and who’s had the chop … decided to make a run for it. Forget it! The place was high security, search lights the lot. Half expected to see guards on turrets brandishing canine lasers. Anyway, after that I was labelled potential runaway. As you can imagine I wasn’t top of the list when it came to being rehomed.
  An old lady decided to give me a go. Well that turned out to be one misdemeanor after another. After chasing her prize cat, leaving it precariously balanced in a tree, necessitating a ridiculous rescue mission from the local fire brigade, I was out. Brainless cat could have got down … jeeze they’re supposed to have nine lives.
  There were a few more, ‘We’ll take hims,’ and every time the outcome was the same. Always some part of dog etiquette I didn’t grasp. As a result, I was out on the streets. Life just had to change.
  Anyways, there I was with my head stuck in another bin of last night’s take-aways, when rough hands hauled me out. Not again, were my initial thoughts, thinking the Pound. I’ve never been one for displaying the teeth, even growling I’ve found is pretty detrimental to my well-being. With self-preservation in mind, instead of arguing with those pan handles I decided to go with the flow, so to speak. Turns out the old guy needed a travel companion, obviously thinks I’m the one.
 ‘You’ll be right mate.’ A man of few words.
  Next thing he slings me in the front of this old red; battered Ute. Well I’m not going to argue. To my relief, I feel quite at home. Perhaps it’s the smell, along with knots of bale string, a rusted tool box all sitting among yellowing papers. Deciding I might as well risk it, I take up the seat next to his, doing my hang dog look out the window. Just love that wind in my face, tongue lolling out, eyeing up the paws.
  Popping my head back in I notice this picture stuck to his sun visor. It’s a strange one, an old shack of a house. Red corrugated roof, a bit of board and baton for walls, all shuttered up. Seems like that’s where we’re headed. Must be out country. Nothing like it round these parts anyways.
  Every so often I take a sneaky glance at him. His clothes are as rough as my coat, his face like a gnarled end of season apple, with the bluest eyes always looking. However, it’s the hands. Saucepan lids, strong like they’d seen plenty of action. A number eight wire type.
  The journey was made up of gas stops, toilet breaks for both of us – he likes trees almost as much as I do. Burgers with strong coffee, I had chicken, all served up with the constant backdrop of music coming from the radio.
  He’d talk to me between times telling me about his life. He’d only been out for a couple of months – he just needed somewhere safe. The place had been left to him. His gran, he said. Now was the right time to move on. With me he always added. Said I looked like a mean old bugger, bit like him. Something special about finally being wanted.
  We’d been on the road for days possibly. For those final kilometres the road changed – unsealed, rough with pot holes from hell. Trying to stay on the seat became a bottom shuffling art; never-the- less we arrived. It was just that – a shack by a stream. Fish a plenty no doubt. Citrus trees too.
  The old guy jumped from the cab, immediately pulling down the old shutters, letting the sunlight stream through. Inside smelt musty, made a dog sneeze, however; even I could see the potential of the place. Seems like he had the same idea. Everything an old guy and his dog would ever need.
  ‘She’ll be right,’ he said, giving my ears one of those long, wonderful scratches.
  Funny the places we find heaven.
  May 2018

Kate Mason : The Search
  She had come back to this place, this deserted shack, close to the shoreline, the edge of the lough, where over the other side of the water the mountain sweeping upwards as if guarding the land . Who would want to be here? Unless, it was on some sort of mission, in hiding or seeking refuge from the world out there, where it had all happened.
  In the distance could be seen the wide tidal channel that had once housed clusters of villages, but all have been swallowed up by the sea over several centuries. They say, if you swim over there you can float over invisible streets and buildings, the further out you go the further back in history you’ve reached.
  It is early morning and sitting on the steps by the door, she watches the seashore come to life.
  The grey gulls glide and dive and shriek overhead. The curlews, so few nowadays, stand on the low rocks drying in the early sunshine. Yes, another day was starting here, following countless or millions of other days and days that will follow on.
  The area is a gathering place for predators and prey. Seals come for the big fish, gannets come for the sand eels and the men come for the herrings.
  Stray images drift into her mind, thoughts of other times, of here and other places. Somewhere out along these miles of sand lie the unmarked graves of bodies of the unknown, – only known when living, whose discovery might bring some comfort and closure, where does the search begin?
  Somewhere out there.
  She remembers that morning when she had heard on the radio that there had been an ambush close to the border. His bed had not been slept in that night.
  She had known little of his movements but as far as she was aware he had no strong political or national allegiance. Yet she always feared for his safety.
  Her search was futile. Body missing, no accounting for truth or falsehood, or cover- up. “Bodies of traitors seldom returned to families”, they said. “They don’t deserve a decent burial, just dump them anywhere”. But he wasn’t a traitor. His only crime if one can call it that, was his father was English, long since gone.
  The day grew and the air thinned and the sun rose above clouded skies.
  Sometimes, she imagined the sands in whispered voices calling; “this way, this way,” but the voices would fade and she would continue on in her quest.
  She knows this area well and knew in certain parts the sand would slacken to mud, but never felt it was dangerous or rash while the tide was out. As she traipsed along the sands her footprints were erased behind her by the shallow lapping of the waters. Always alert, her eyes turned downwards towards the sandy shingle, towards the edge of the coastline.
  As the tide was approaching its turn, it was time to retrace her way back to her evenings in her shack.
  There were occasions when she could allow herself to absorb the serenity of the place. She had come to a quiet acceptance, but never gave up hope. A gradual inner peace and tranquillity had become familiar and comforting.
  May 2018

Pat Hudson : Fisherman’s Place
  She’d always hated the place – from the very first time she’d visited with his family all those years ago. She was 10 and they’d brought a cold picnic. There had been a terrible storm and the little wooden house swayed, timbers creaked, dust blew in and they shivered – she remembered being terrified and so very cold.
  Years later they came back together and she lost her virginity there – her strongest memories were the smell of damp, sea kale and discordant birds. So she felt she was going back to where it all began – except this time she was all alone and no-one cared about the old fisherman’s cottage, his family had long gone.
  She’d knew she had never been good enough for him or his family, no-one knew why he married her – she wondered herself most times. He could captivate any audience and charm anyone and she just didn’t know how could he do that? Whenever she tried to join in a conversation, it was as if her voice wasn’t loud enough.
  He had started to visit the cottage often – he needed the time to think, to write, to draw, to compose or whatever it was he needed the time for. She never minded because he would always come back lighter and much more tolerant.
  Last year, when yet another weekend loomed and she felt at a real loss – and the flowers had been arranged and re-arranged and the pillows washed and fluffed, she decided to surprise him. She’d gone to the farmers market early and bought hams, truckles, crusty bread, apple pies and his favourite cider and her basket was so full, it made her bicycle difficult to steer.
  As she neared the cottage she saw two cars. She walked slowly over the shingle and wooden sleepers and carefully round the lizards darting over and under the stones. He wasn’t there but there was signs he wasn’t far – there were empty bottles, spent candles and ladies underwear caught up in squashed pizza boxes, all over the floor.
  She waited behind the abandoned shrimp lugger and then watched him say a long goodbye to his young companion – probably one of his students – but she could have been anyone – and she waited for him to go back into the cottage.
  She hit him so very hard on the back of his head – and the side of his head – and then the front of his head and then dropped the large jagged stone heavily onto his chest – he was quite still.
  She had all the time in the world to chop up and dispose of his body and the seagulls, foxes and eagles did the rest and feasted on his flesh. The surrounding land was a tip of blown-about rubbish, driftwood and animal carcasses and now a year later, his bleached ribcage was home to kestrels and cormorants and looked like an eerie sculpture in the evening light.
  She didn’t hate the place quite so much now and as she closed the door behind her and pressed her wedding ring and one of his gold teeth into the window frame, she lit a match …
  May 2018

Roger Cowe : The Red Roof
  “Why would you paint a house with no windows”, the first woman asked.
  “What are you talking about? There are windows alright”, her friend replied.
  “Not really – they’re just white blobs. There should be a proper frame and four panes of glass. You should be able to see inside.”
  “Oh, you’re the proper art critic now, aren’t you.”
  “It’s a shame, that’s all. He’s done the roof properly, and the stones for the foundation. And those pebbles must have taken an age. So it’s a shame he couldn’t do the windows properly.”
  “Maybe they’re blinds – no, shutters.”
  There was a pause while the first woman considered this latest theory, but before she had time to answer her friend had moved the criticism on.
  “Anyway, whoever saw a roof as red as that.”
  This led the debate in a more subtle direction. “Hmmm, I suppose it’s not supposed to be life-like.” Then, with sudden energy: “It’s a representation, an allegory. You know – it’s what he was thinking, not what he was looking at.”
  Now the artist’s mind was to be dissected.
  “I bet it’s somewhere he used to go as a child, with his mum and dad. Holiday by the sea, you know?”
  “It wouldn’t just be sitting there all alone on the beach though, would it? You don’t get a house like that all alone right down by the sea.”
  “No, but it’s not real, remember. It was probably part of a little seaside community. Like beach huts, only a bit posher. But he felt alone, isolated. He was probably an only child and he didn’t have any friends down at the seaside. So he’s painted it all on its own, like he felt back then.”
  “Hmmm”, said the sceptical one. “Probably his mum and dad were quite old when they had him.”
  “Yeah, and they just sat around in deckchairs sunning themselves ….”
  “His father would be reading the paper all day, I’ll bet …”
  “Or sleeping with it over his face!”
  They laughed at the thought, and perhaps at the memory of their own fathers’ holiday “reading”.
  “Poor lad. He had to wander up and down the beach on his own.“
  “His dad should have played with him. Made sandcastles, kicked a ball about. That’s what dads are for.”
  “What about his mother. She could have played with him, helped him make friends with the other kids.”
  “There wouldn’t be other kids. It’s an old people’s sort of resort. Anyway, she had all the cooking and cleaning to do. No holiday for her.”
  “I wonder what he was like when he grew up.”
  “Probably still very solitary, I should think. That sort of upbringing affects you. You never get to be good at making friends if you don’t learn when you’re little.”
  “Or it can go the other way. You over-compensate and you’re friends with everyone.”
  “Not in this case. Look at that roof. He’s angry. He’s an angry old man.”
  “Hmmm. ……… Shall we get a cup of tea?”
  I couldn’t help but smile as they headed off to the cafeteria. They were right about the anger, sure enough.
  May 2018

Nicci Iacovou : A Journey
  Having finished Mother’s shopping, I decided to take my usual short cut round the back of Boots. As I turned onto this urban footpath, the ground began to shake, there was a flash and I found myself floating through the air. Not exactly floating, I guess, as I was being held, guided even, by some white shirts. Their tails flapped in the strong wind that had suddenly whipped up. I couldn’t feel their grip, but somehow felt safe in their hands, or, more accurately, their cuffs. That feeling is definitely something to note, as I like to keep my feet strictly on terra firma. There was one shirt holding each of my ankles, one supporting each of my knees, elbows and wrists. A ninth one, I then realized, had its cuffs cradling the back of my head and neck.
  I don’t know how much time passed before the shirts put me down, and instantly disappeared. Looking around, I seemed to be on a deserted gravel beach, although there was so sea to be seen. It was a dreary day, yet the sky was clear. Maybe it was beginning to get dark. My watch gave no clue as to the time of day, its dial now obscured by clouded glass. I pulled out my phone. That had gained the same fuzzy, illegible appearance. Great. A broken watch and phone with no idea where I am.
  I began to trudge across the gravel, in the hope of coming across some form of civilization soon. A giant pencil placed itself in each of my hands, digging into the gravel ahead of me, assisting my walking. My shopping bags moved out of my grip as two more enormous pencils appeared, each one threading itself through the handles of a bag and carrying it along. Again, this did not seem strange.
  My spirits lifted when I saw a bungalow ahead. With its red roof, brown walls, white shutters and door, it resembled a giant beach hut. Civilization, at last! As I reached the door, I noticed the pencils had disappeared. When did that happen?
  Unable to find a knocker or bell, I tapped on the door and waited, picking up my bags in readiness. Just as I was thinking of knocking again, the door swung open, revealing a long corridor lined with doors, each one a different colour. The decision to step inside was made for me, as something wet and jelly like pushed against my head, back and legs. Ugh! Get off! I ran forward and turned round. A large greyish granular mass with something that resembled a black football in its centre faced me, completely blocking the entrance. It constantly moved, its shape changing. A giant amoeba?! My thought about how it was surviving out of water competed with the concept of an impossibly large amoeba. For the first time that day, things felt strange and scary. Fixated on the amoeba, I leaned across the corridor, grabbed the handle of the red door and shot in. The sound of a familiar rhythm reached my ears.
  “… three times three is nine, four times three is twelve, five times three is …”
  “What are you doing in here? This class is full! Get out at once!” The owner of the voice stood by the blackboard. Her warty face frowned.
  “S-sorry. There’s a giant amoeba out there and it’s going to eat me.”
  “Giant amoeba indeed! Don’t be ridiculous! Get out of here”, I said.
  She walked towards me, brandishing a large bat (of the furry kind, but rigid).
  In the corridor once more, I realized I’d opted to leap back out without thinking about my Hobson’s choice. Mercifully, a damp patch had replaced the amoeba. My forgotten shopping bags were on the floor. I sighed. What now? Desolately, I picked up my bags and opened the green door.
  “Sophie! Where you have been all this time? Your mother’s called twice asking where you are with her shopping. Your phone was off.” Nick took the bags from me. “Sit down, I’ll make you some tea.”
  May 2018